Andy Fitzpatrick felt compelled to speak up when no one else had anything to say.
The Nelson Leafs had just given up their seventh goal when a timeout was called. Yet the coaching staff stayed silent. The players huddled and kept their heads down. But Fitzpatrick, one of the team’s leaders, was too incensed to keep quiet.
“The coaches, they push us along the way. They can only help us so much,” he said. “It’s time for someone else to step up. There was a lot to be said. Someone’s just got to say it. So I had to say it, because that was just ugly hockey. Not stepping up for each other.”
But the damage was done. Fitzpatrick’s angry speech was too little, too late, and the Leafs lost a humiliating game 8-2 to the Castlegar Rebels on Saturday.
Shawn Campbell scored a hat trick for Castlegar, which scored five times in the second period en route to its third-straight victory and a two-point lead on Nelson for second place in the Neil Murdoch Division.
John Moeller scored twice and had two assists, while Logan Styler, Daneel Lategan and Dallas Goodwin also scored for the Rebels (21-15-0), who scored five goals in the second period. Curt Doyle meanwhile made 22 saves for Castlegar.
Sawyer Hunt and Jack Karran had the goals for the Leafs (18-17-4), while Devin Allen stopped 21-of-29 shots in net.
Allen often seemed more like a victim than a goaltender during the game. His teammate Billy Gorn was injured in practice and couldn’t play, which meant Allen was essentially on his own. After the game his teammates — those who were left on the ice that is — skated over to thank him.
Leafs defenceman Aigne McGeady-Bruce said his goalie deserved better.
“I can honestly say that a good portion of those [goals] had nothing to do with him,” said McGeady-Bruce. “So just telling him that you know, win as a team, lose as a team, and that we need to be there for him and we weren’t tonight. So basically, we just need him to move on and I guess forgive us and be ready for tomorrow and the rest of the season and into playoffs.”
Neither team left the rink feeling good about themselves. The Leafs will likely play Grand Forks on Sunday without top scorers Dale Howell and Hunt, as well as defenceman Brent Headon, who were all tossed for fighting within the game’s last 10 minutes and are looking at suspensions.
Nelson head coach Mario DiBella and Castlegar coach Bill Rotheislter were also ejected after the pair started shouting at each other from opposing benches.
The game was such a blood bath that even the referee didn’t escape unscathed. Dave Flanagan, the game’s main official, was accidentally hit hard in the second period and needed assistance from a trainer, but he stayed in the game.
DiBella said the tone was set early when Leafs forward Alex Meeker was cross-checked and punched in the face to no call.
“There’s penalties that are being called against us that are questionable and players don’t know what they’re supposed to do on the ice,” said DiBella. “I’m certainly not laying that on the officiating as far as the overall game result is concerned.
“We weren’t ready, we laid an egg and it was embarrassing.”
Nelson had all the momentum off the opening faceoff but the Rebels still got on the scoreboard first. Moeller was in the slot when he snapped a shot that clanged off the post and in to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead on their third shot of the game at 14:55.
The Rebels took a two-goal lead on the power play. Campbell was waiting at the far post when Kyle Bergh’s pinpoint pass found him for an easy deflection at 7:18.
But the Leafs went into the first intermission down just one goal. Defenceman Dash Thompson wired a one-timer from the point that Hunt deflected past Doyle with just over a minute left. It was nearly a tie game moments later but Meeker whiffed on the doorstep with nothing but net in front of him.
Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered. Not after what happened in the second period.
The Rebels exploded for five goals after the break, picking apart the Leafs’ defence and taking advantage of every turnover.
A bad giveaway by Headon led to a Rebels 2-on-1. Moeller found Styler, who scored on Allen to kick off a very long 20 minutes for Nelson.
Just 17 seconds later the Rebels struck again. Allen couldn’t stop a quick shot by Campbell, and suddenly the score was 4-1.
The onslaught continued. Campbell completed his hat trick when he was left wide open on a Castlegar power play for a quick goal. That was followed by another bad Leafs giveaway during a power play, which led to a short-handed goal by Lategan.
Fitzpatrick said the Leafs made a revolving door out of the penalty box, and that it decimated their game.
“That was the big thing right?” he said. “Look how many penalties we took. You can’t be doing that, especially on the hunt for playoffs. Just poor effort.”
Finally, with five minutes left in the period, Goodwin went to a knee for a shot to make it 7-1. The period ended with a scrum at centre ice as Nelson made its frustrations known. That didn’t help though — the Leafs started the third with three players in the penalty box.
Only a minute into the period Leafs forward Dale Howell was handed a penalty shot after being brought down on a rush. But Doyle stayed with Howell and denied a tight-angle shot.
The Leafs’ bad luck continued. Moeller skated in on the wing and took a shot that hit Meeker. But the puck returned to Moeller, and his backhand beat Allen put the Rebels up 8-1.
That goal was the final nail for Meeker. He threw an elbow that left a Rebel on the ice, then started exchanging punches with Nico Sidoni. That got both players tossed, and they were quickly followed by DiBella and Rotheislter.
The Rebels coach said that was for the best.
“Honestly, kudos to the ref for trying to tame down a situation that certainly could have gotten out of hand,” said Rotheislter. “He removed both me and Mario, probably rightfully so, and just thank god this is over.”
More fights broke out, leading to several players being ejected and a long delay as the officials tried to sort out what happened. Howell, Headon and Hunt were tossed for the Leafs, while the Rebels lost Chase Daniels and Brandon Costa. Lategan, meanwhile, left the ice with a tooth lodged into his lip and a blood towel wrapped around his mouth.
Nelson scored a fruitless goal with just 44 seconds left. The game had shifted down to first gear when Karran scored to put a cap on an ugly contest.
By then, hockey was the last game anyone wanted to play.
Leaflets: Aside from Gorn, the Leafs were also missing injured D Zach Morey. D Michael LeNoury, who the Leafs just acquired at the Jan. 10 trade deadline, was called up to Junior A. … Castlegar was missing five players: D Ellis Junker, F Ed Lindsay, F Chance Szott, D Andrew Petten and F Dallas Goodwin.